“You should throw your false laws in the trash and abandon your dreams (...) You must follow us and continue your life as a citizen within the framework of our laws. We're only holding on for now! At any moment we can launch a military operation. Everybody knows it." The words of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on May 27, made during a trip to Lachin, leave no ambiguity. The Head of State celebrated the installation of Azeri families in this city of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, an enclave populated mainly by Armenians, and which was, by Stalin's decision, attached to Azerbaijan in 1921.
Since Nagorno-Karabakh unilaterally proclaimed its independence after the collapse of the USSR, its status has never been recognized by the international community. Without taking a formal position, the Armenian authorities have since remained the de facto protectors of Karabakh.
In 2020, Azerbaijan, after 44 days of a deadly war, regained control of 70% of the enclave. On December 12, Baku took a new step by installing a blockade on the only road linking the enclave to neighboring Armenia. The corridor that the 120,000 Armenians of Artsakh regularly used, and where until then food and medicine passed, now only allows Red Cross convoys to pass for the dropper transfer of urgently ill patients.
“We are still alive. We are trying to hold on,” sighs Vadim, a resident of Stepanakert. He's been out of petrol and gas for a long time. In front of the stores, the queues are getting longer. To hold out despite the deficiencies, particularly in fresh produce, the Artsakh authorities have established a rationing system. Sugar, rice, pasta, fruits and vegetables, or even eggs are available according to a specific schedule. Some prices have exploded. "You could find strawberries from 900 drams before (2.20 euros), they are now at 5000-8000 (12-19 euros)!", Vadim explains.
Electricity is also missing. The only supply line that came from Armenia, and passed through Azeri territory, was sabotaged. The authorities have introduced daily cuts to save energy. Since May 26, they have gone from 3 to 6 hours a day. “In Stepanakert, on the streets, the electricity is cut from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., then from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Exact meal times. I have six children, you can imagine the complications,” says Siranush, 39 and a mother. The hospital is also affected by the breakdowns. The generators are just enough to supply the emergency and resuscitation services.
Life in Artsakh has turned bleak. "When evening comes, the streets look like a ghost ball: it's people walking through a pitch-black city. When you ask them, people will tell you, if it's just a lack of light and a little food, it's fine. But no one knows what will happen to us tomorrow. Siranush's voice chokes on the phone. “We are very worried. For us, but also for our children...".
On the international scene, the silence is heavy. In Washington, then in Brussels with Charles Michel, and finally this Thursday in Chisinau, Westerners are trying one after another to mediate between Azerbaijani President Aliev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. “Westerns are putting pressure on Armenia to cede Nagorno-Karabakh. For them, it's the only way to move forward,” said a diplomatic source from Artsakh. “France is the exception. I would even say, the French president is the exception. But when Westerners go under the same European banner, France is forced to review its position. She can't afford to be offside."
If the inhabitants of Artsakh are used to the virulent threats of the Azerbaijani president, more surprising were the remarks slipped by the Armenian prime minister during a press conference on May 22. Nikol Pashinian declared himself ready to recognize Azerbaijan's sovereignty over the enclave with a view to a bilateral peace agreement. “Armenia is ready to recognize the territorial integrity of 86,600 km from Azerbaijan,” the leader said, adding that “the 86,600 km also includes Nagorno-Karabakh”.
Coming from the protective country that has always condemned the imminent risk of "ethnic cleansing" by Baku in Nagorno-Karabakh, these words sounded like a betrayal in Artsakh. In a terse statement, the authorities expressed their "feeling of indignation and anger". Concession of a cornered ruler, abandoned by his allies? Several times in recent months, Azerbaijan has unleashed volleys of fire on the territory of Armenia itself. No international reaction followed. Abandoned by Russia, faced with the silence of Westerners, Yerevan is more isolated than ever.
“What is being asked of Armenia is an impossible choice. What would you do if you were asked to choose between your two children?” asks another Armenian source. “The mistake is to believe that Aliyev will stop there. He did not respect the tripartite declaration of November 9, 2020, he did not respect the orders of the International Court of Justice requiring the reopening of the Lachin corridor. No peace agreement will satisfy him. It is the war that he wants”.
In France, the Armenian diaspora is mobilizing. On Sunday, the CCAF, which coordinates Armenian organizations in France, called for demonstrations in Paris, from the Trocadero to the Azerbaijani embassy.
"Thank you for your interest in us," slipped Siranush, a resident of Stepanakert, at the end of the exchange. "We feel like we've been forgotten. Every morning I wake up and ask myself the same question: what will become of us, of our future? I have this anxiety all the time. Where is the United Nations? The European Union ? International organizations? They know who Aliyev is, but they keep talking about possible integration… Agreeing to deliver us to Azerbaijan is like putting a lamb in the mouth of the wolf and saying, go ahead, have fun”.